Brookings Institution scholar and co-author of the 2013 Economic Values Survey report William Galston offered up some interesting insights about Americans’ views on the relationship between religion and morality during the report’s July 18 launch and panel discussion at Brookings.
“If you look at the country as a whole, it’s split almost down the middle,” Galston said, pointing out that a slim majority “agree that it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values which, if you’ve studied freshman logic, suggests that if you don’t believe in God then there is not particular ground to be moral and to have good values and you’re probably not going to have them.”
Americans are very closely divided on the question of whether you need to believe in God to be moral (52 percent say it is necessary, 47 percent say it’s not). This question, Galston said, draws out some interesting breaks. Women, older Americans (age 65+) and non-white Americans are among the more likely to say that a belief in God is necessary to have good values.
Among white Americans, there are some striking splits on the question by income and education level. A majority (55 percent) of white working-class Americans say that a belief in God is a prerequisite for having good values, while only about one-quarter (26 percent) of white college-educated Americans agree. Galston called this a “big, big divide,” and said a similar division is evident between the 66 percent of low-income white Americans (those making $30,000 or less annually) who say a belief in God is necessary to have morals and the significantly fewer 27 percent of high-income Americans (those making $100,000 or more annually) who say the same.
Galston also noted that 50 years ago, it was socially accepted “that as long as you’re religious…then you’re likely to have good values and good character.” But now, he says, Americans are thinking differently.
“It’s pretty clear that the country is moving toward a rejection of the necessity of the belief in God in order to be of good character and to have the right values,” Galston said. “Who knows what kind of society we’ll be?”